“It wasn’t one of those times where you ask somebody; this was one of those times when you say, “You are going to be part of this, because this is important to us as musicians who have been a part of this as long as we have.” Also, it is important to the youth, so that they fully understand that they do have a culture and that they do have their own music they should be looking within and looking to, as opposed to being told look over there.” Junior Giscombe
And also there’s all these different demographics now, you’ve got new audiences now that we’re trying to bring in, you’ve got the old ones that know your music and stuff, so you don’t want to let them down. And there are people who may not have been into you in the first place, but all of a sudden they thought “You know what, I’m into you now!”…So we have these three little things that we’re pushing out there…So it’s a real positive initiative that we’ve got here as a ‘British Collective’. Leee John
Photo: Courtesy of David S. James
Individually their songs were never out of the charts during the eighties and nineties; with classic hits that resonated both with the underground and mainstream markets. Well, 2014 saw the formation of a UK Soul power-house collective, bringing together five unique voices behind some of the tunes that have been the soundtrack to many of our lives thus far. Don-e, Junior Giscombe, Omar Lye-fook, Leee John and Noel McKoy are The British Collective. A few days after having been an integral part of Tony Blackburn’s Radio London Soul Night out, Michael ‘The Dood’ Edwards went into deep conversation with two of the more seasoned members of this newly formed, yet musically and industry astute band – Junior Giscombe and Leee John.
The Dood: Greetings Leee and Junior, two fifths of the U.K.’s latest and most dynamic super group, The British Collective. Are you both in good health?
The Dood: Are you all familiar with the American basketball term ‘The Dream Team’ where the top players from across the NBA are brought together in one ‘All-Star Team?’ Because to me, that’s what The British Collective represents, the cream of the UK’s 80s and 90s Soul, Funk and Pop pioneers. Another analogy is with the film The Magnificent Seven. Would you concur?
Junior Giscombe: It’s been a pleasure being able to work with everyone.
Leee John: May I interject. For me and from my point of view, Junior got on the phone and said, “Look, we need to meet up!” They all met, Carl McIntosh, Don-e and Junior and said, “Let’s get this started! Let’s get this soup out there!” He didn’t even say, “Do you want to?” It was like, “You coming down!” (Both Leee and Junior laugh). It wasn’t even a case of, “Would you care to come down?” It was, “What time you coming and when?!”
Junior Giscombe: It wasn’t one of those times where you ask somebody, this was one of those times when you say, “You are going to be part of this, because this is important to us as musicians who have been in this industry as long as we have.” Also, it is important to the youth, so that they fully understand that they do have a culture and that they do have their own music they should be looking within and looking to, opposed to being told look over there. And where are they looking; the originators of that music are sitting right in front of you! We are here! That was more important than just the Leee John or Junior Giscombe etc. To me the strength of it was Leee John, Omar, Don-e, Junior and Noel McKoy – that’s the strength of the combo! You have that kind of strength and you wield a certain type of power.
If you can direct that power in a direction that shows history, that shows we can organise ourselves here in such a way that young people can get a better understanding of the industry that they are coming into. They can have a platform to play; they can have people around them who understand the music business. Who can direct them and help them as they progress, opposed to being locked into a system that has been dominating this country since time immemorial, and does not allow progress unless you give yourself to it fully. Meaning, however it chooses to tear you apart you’re prepared to go along with it. If you’re not prepared to go that far, then they’re not prepared to deal with you, so you have to go that far.
The Dood: Growing up in my ‘Family’,’ Mama Used To Say’ that ‘Love Makes The World Go Round’ and that as a i grew older It would be revealed that it is not ‘Just An illusion’ and on discovering real love I will say to myself ‘There’s Nothing Like This’. Can you relate to those sentiments growing up?
Photo: Courtesy of David S. James
Leee John: It’s interesting because all those songs you mentioned have become a tapestry of people’s lives. You know, you walk down the street and people talk to you, or they e-mail you, especially nowadays, about the effect these songs have had. And sometimes it’s weird, I get feedback from Morocco, I was there the other day, and you see these audiences – and you’re thinking how far this music that we did in north-west London – which is where it was recorded – how far it’s taken around the world. And that for me is a very important factor, which people here don’t necessarily realise, the fact that the music is international; it’s an international brand. All of us have gone all over the place and are still doing it. And that to me is a wonderful thing.
You know about Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet and all that, because the media pushes it, and that’s the situation. We were in South Africa last year with all these different artists and I was the only black artist on the roster…It showed me that it’s like a matrix, and no matter what’s hitting you, you still have to push through like a bull. So that’s the only way we know.
The Dood: I appreciate you must all still be buzzing coming off the back of your recent live performances firstly at Tony Blackburn’s ‘Children In Need’ Radio London Soul Night Out on 4th December, and your ‘London Live’ showcase on 11th December
2014. How was the experience for you?
Leee John: We really do have a lot of laughs, and try to cover for each other and make sure everybody’s okay. We look good, feel good. We’ve been doing this a long time, so it’s got to be about fun, about the music. And also there’s all these different demographics now, you’ve got new audiences now that we’re trying to bring in, you’ve got the old ones that know your music and stuff, so you don’t want to let them down. And there are people who may not have been into you in the first place, but all of a sudden they’re thinking “You know what, I’m into you now!” And that’s what happens. So we have these three little things that were pushing out there, and as I said, it’s a unique blend of everybody together. So it’s a real positive initiative that we’ve got here as a ‘British Collective’.
The Dood: For so many people this is a welcome ‘Flashback’ hearing all these classic voices again still sounding fresh and on point. Moreover, there’s definitely a reason for a whole new generation of Soul music lovers to get ‘Hot Up and Heated’ all over again?
Junior Giscombe: ‘Hot Up and Heated’ was like the first track that I did that became a number one hit in France before ‘Mama Used to Say’. So yes, it’s all coming round again, because people are now, via YouTube getting into the ‘Hot Up and Heated’ tune.
Leee John: It’s interesting because my god-daughter is good friends with ‘The Saturdays’ and hangs around with all these kind of groups, so it’s interesting seeing what they’re into and what they’re not into. It’s interesting just observing, and I try not to open my mouth. What I do find is they are listening to our grooves, they’re listening to our music.
Photo: Courtesy of David S. James
Junior Giscombe: They have to! And I don’t say that trying to be big-headed, but they have to. But sometimes what we forget is that during the eighties what we actually did musically was historic to the country itself in terms of music. We never had so much diversity in black music; that was the first experience. It’s something that at that time we didn’t fully grasp ourselves, because we were young, we were in the moment, and we were going with the flow. But if you do sit back and you kind of take a moment and you look at it, there’s never been a time since for such diverse black music to come out of this country and being successful!
Leee John: That’s the difference!
Junior Giscombe: Yes successful, and in its own backyard, as well as international. Of course there were other groups like Cymande.
Leee John: Yes Cymande. I’ve gone through the whole timeline! Osibisi were big in America as well as here. On the Pop side of it, you had Linda Lewis, Joan Armatrading broke; you have The Real Thing, you had Heatwave – who were 70s – you had Hi-Tension, who are now on the touring circuit. But by the time that gate opened, by the time you had the Light of the World’s and everything, It was from the 1980s onwards. And then you got into the early 1990s to 1995. Even in the film (Flashback – A History of UK Black Music) we kind of chronologically do that, but we had to chart it up to say to Beverley Knight, when you had a record company. At that point in time, all of a sudden you had the boy bands and the girl bands; and then group or artist history kind of dissolved, it became a completely different kind of situation. There wasn’t any existence of what we did anymore; it went completely went out of the window.
Junior Giscombe: I think it started to move that way when George Michael released ‘Everything She Wants’. I was an advocate for that song, I love the song and I love what it does, and I love the groove. But I had no idea that in going to America and running my mouth at the time saying, “This is the tune! This is the tune!” the effect it would have. Remember that year George Michael won best R&B record over Bobby Brown’s ‘Don’t Be Cruel’.
Leee John: I remember he went on Soul Train!
Junior Giscombe: Remember what was going on at that time. All of a sudden it was a paradighm shift, because as soon as George could be accepted in America being played on black radio; that was like Elvis being played on black radio. So I’ve always been saying, “So where is the change? We are now in 2014/2015 – show me the change.” Unless you can open up the forum for this kind of conversation, so that people start to listen and look at it – not from the perspective of “Here we go again, it’s that story again innit, it’s all about race!” – No, but from a very true perspective that we have affected the way that we all are; this little minute part of the island, which is black. We have shaped culture, form and fashion – don’t narrow it down! In every way we have affected this society and we’re getting props for none of it!
The Dood: I understand from earlier conversation with Don-e that the seed for The British Collective came about from young Junior Giscombe here, but lay dormant until becoming a reality in 2012/2013 when you all combined to write ‘Spiritual’ to help promote his album ‘Little Star,’ but also to introduce the public The British Collective. Also he was influenced by Quincy Jones’ track, ‘Secret Garden’ featuring numerous American Soul and R&B singers (Barry White, El Debarge, Al B Sure, and James Ingram. So he basically wanted to harness all the greats in British Soul music from the 80s and 90s into one collaborative or collective?
Photo: Courtesy of David S. James
Junior Giscombe: Until you put it on a platform where people see it as something that they should have… It’s a bit like the iPhone, the iPhone was presented in such a way that we thought that we had to have one, we didn’t you know, we really didn’t. Some of us had Nokia’s and Samsung’s at the time and we were fine; we’re all individuals. Apple /IPhone said, “No No No! This individualism stuff doesn’t work for us; you’ve all got to clone up!”
The Dood: Both of you are obviously very intelligent, deep and conscientious thinkers, does it concern you that people only really know you from your public persona within the realm of music?
Junior Giscombe: We’ve all come to a point in our lives where there’s no need for it anymore. When we were signed to record companies, we were learning that we were puppets, we we’re learning that we were being pimped; we were learning that there was a pimp! When we came out of being signed to record companies we had to learn to develop a career without all that money and engine behind us. You either become steely about what you do or you fall – Steely, not in the sense that you try to make things harder for people, but steely in the sense that you start to have a perspective and goal and that you’re going to achieve it. You start getting rid of the edges that were there that you felt that you needed because you’re under the umbrella of a record company.
Leee John: For me personally, I went back to how I was before I got signed, because that’s when I had the most fun, I enjoyed myself and did many different things. I was always that kind of person… I’m about entertainment; I’m about the music, having fun. And for me there are so many areas of entertainment that you can explore and get into, there should not be any block. And that is one of the things that for me is important, to keep that creative current going, and that’s inspiring. So for me that’s what it’s all about. Once I was in the company I had to walk and talk and become one of these porn’s, and it was always a battle! Once you’ve done your album and mastered your album, it was always a battle, it was always a fight. But they couldn’t all be down!
Difference is good, and that is the whole thing. We are a rainbow of colours, and in the The British Collective we are a rainbow of colours; a rainbow of colours in diversity, in musicality, in what you give a club. Because if you walk and talk like robots then how can we learn from each other. The good thing about were doing is that we’re still learning – education is the situation. I’m learning from the youngsters as well. We’re learning from each other, and that’s what keeps it fresh and keeps us going for it!
The Dood: In relation to the analogy made to the magnificent seven earlier, I understand that outside of the five core members of the The British Collective, that there were/are many other notable UK Soul singers either involved or considered – names such as Carl McIntosh, Rick Clarke, Paul Johnson, Glen Goldsmith, Roachford. And I’ll also name check Keni Stevens and Sinclair whose records I also have in my collection. How did you narrow it down to five?
Junior Giscombe: On the face of it The British Collective is five guys; but The Btitish Collective itself is a movement. The five guys you see, because of what they’ve done and what they’ve achieved they’re representing the whole. Let’s say you use these five guys as your pillar – even before those five guys, there were these people; and there’s nothing wrong with these people, they’re fantastic artists and have contributed an immense amount to the music industry, in the same way we have. So in a sense we are honouring each individual that we asked to come up, because we can see them – you don’t have to see it, but we see it. Our mission is to project that. We’re grown men we’re not boys! So you can forget all this boys – men crap, or ‘One Direction!’ We were here perfecting our craft a long time before them. We have children, we have grandchildren.
Photo: Courtesy of David S. James
If my legacy is ‘Mama Used To Say,’ then so be it. My undercurrent legacy is to ensure that my children understand where they come from? Where they’re heading; how to project themselves? The best way forward is to be an individual, not to become part of that mass bullshit that everybody is. If I can make my children walk that line and a couple of other people out here can see the light too, so I can see some of us progress in the way that we should progress, by ensuring that we work together, then I’ve done something. The fact that we’ve sold 100 million records between us, means that we as grown men cannot afford to be involved in something only for monetary gain. I want my kids to understand those un-truths, so that they can project themselves amongst us with a reverence to doing good for others. What we must do is understand our worth.
Michael J Edwards
Part 2 of our interview can be found here
Essential Website: http://www.thebritishcollective.com/
Essential Album: The British Collective Vol. 1 (March 2015) More than just music, it’s a movement!
Essential Single: Romantic (Out Now)
A Big Mike and ukvibe thank you to Diane Dunkley at RM2 Music for arranging the link up.